I visited with a dear friend yesterday who was on her way to give a lecture on mental health. When I scanned the 114 blogs I’ve written, I saw that several of them were dedicated to physical healing. Healing the body is pretty straight forward. It takes time, dedication, mindfulness and a lot of patience, but it feels doable. The source of physical pain is often obvious. You stubbed your toe. You broke your leg. You ate something that didn’t agree with you or your arthritis is making your joints ache. When you get the flu, it’s easy to talk about it and ask a friend to drop by with some chicken soup. But when it comes to mental healing, it’s a great deal more complicated.

Beyond the biting stigma of mental health, it’s also unpredictable. You can’t put your mind in a cast. The doctor doesn’t know how long it will take to mend. Chicken soup won’t help, neither will an aspirin, and an x-ray won’t reveal how the healing is going. It’s hard to heal something you can’t see or describe, something that turns in on itself, that tricks you and leads you in a confused direction and you can’t pinpoint exactly where it hurts. And it’s a lot harder to ask for help for fear of being judged as weak and whiny.

In some cases, someone says something hurtful to you, someone abandons you, or maybe things aren’t going the way you want them to. Those things can cause emotional pain. But in many more cases, you wake up with a dark foreboding, your chemicals are all mixed up, or you feel anxious and depressed and you don’t know why. When this happens to me, and believe me, it does, I’ve learned that the work is not about figuring out where it came from. You may find out eventually or you may not and that doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a way to nurture yourself, to treat yourself with compassion and make sure you don’t abandon yourself.

It’s important to have a few people in your life who understand the delicate nature of mental imbalance and are there to support you, however long it takes. It may involve taking meds that are much harder to gauge than Tylenol doses and there’s a tendency to beat yourself up in these kinds of mental states. I’ve tried a lot of different things and some of them work some of the time. All I know for sure is that beating myself up and feeling guilty for not feeling good makes it so much worse. If you broke your ankle, you wouldn’t keep punching it all day long and expect it to get better. Why do we do this to our minds and hearts? When we treat ourselves with loving kindness, no matter how we feel, we cut down our suffering and we are able to recall times when it was easier. They will come back. Everything changes, the good and the bad, so let’s be our own best friend when we need help. Why would we choose anything else?

What do you do when your mood swings? Do you bully yourself or do you treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would offer a friend?